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Maltese urged to sign Lockerbie petition

Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer. Photo: AFP

Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer. Photo: AFP

The organisers of a petition seeking to overturn a verdict against the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing have appealed to the Maltese to support a bid to prove his innocence and clear Malta’s link to the disaster.

The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish government to open an inde-pendent inquiry into the 2001 conviction of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi for the bombing of a Pan Am aircraft in December 1988.

The petition is steered by Justice For Megrahi (JFM), an organisation which includes a number of British victims’ relatives, and individuals like world-renowned philosopher Noam Chomsky and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Mr Al-Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal in order to return to Libya after he was released on compassionate grounds in August 2009 means there is currently no means in Scotland by which the verdict may be re-examined.

JFM believes it could convince the authorities to re-examine what it calls one of the biggest miscarriages of justice to associate Libya with one of the worst terrorist attacks. The Pan Am 747 was bound for New York when it exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

Mr Al-Megrahi was convicted after Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci claimed the Libyan had bought the clothes used to conceal the bomb.

The Libyan was then accused of managing to elude security at Luqa airport by loading the suitcase containing a bomb unaccom­panied on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, whereupon it was transferred, again unaccom­panied, to a further flight to London. At Heathrow, it was finally loaded on to the target aircraft.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, appealed to the Maltese to support the call for an independent inquiry.

“There are serious doubts about the verdict and there are very serious doubts on the evidence given by Tony Gauci, who we now know was rewarded for his testimony,” he told The Sunday Times.

Those who studied the evidence know the atrocity was not caused by some device which originated from Malta and there is clear evidence that Mr Al-Megrahi never bought the clothing from the (Sliema) shop, Dr Swire said.

JHM representative Robert Forrester insisted that in the hope that Mr Gauci could identify the purchaser of the clothing from his shop, investigators had repeatedly shown him spreads of pictures of Mr Al-Megrahi.

Mr Forrester said evidence which emerged later showed that Mr Gauci and his brother were given money through the US Rewards for Justice Programme arrangement.

“Mr Al-Megrahi’s case should be referred back to the Court of Appeal, on no fewer than six grounds, in part due to the testimony of Mr Gauci.”

Furthermore, there is also the issue of the respective security regimes at Luqa, Frankfurt and Heathrow. Before the trial, the regimes of all three airports were expertly assessed – with Luqa coming out on top.

In addition, 18 hours before the Pam Am aircraft’s departure, someone broke into Heathrow airside giving access to the area in the vicinity of the Pan Am shed.

This information was known to the UK authorities well in advance of the trial but was not made public until after the verdict was announced.

While the JFM campaign acts to see Mr Al-Megrahi’s name cleared of the crime, it is also committed to seeing both the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system and the good name of Malta restored, Mr Forrester said.

“Both Malta and Scotland are victims of what is tantamount to a criminal injustice by this verdict. This is an issue that goes beyond our obvious sympathy for Mr Al-Megrahi.

“The Maltese people won the George Cross for their extraordinary bravery during adversity of the Second World War, only to see their name tainted by what occurred at Camp Zeist – this is a gross and unconscionable insult.

“Ask yourself this. What would you do if you wanted to place a bomb on a plane departing from Heathrow? Place it, unaccom-panied, on a flight leaving Malta for Frankfurt to eventually be transferred to London in the hope that it would evade the security at three airports, or would you opt for the more obvious and more likely to succeed choice of simply singling out Heathrow?

“The three judges, who were also the jury, clearly preferred the more fantastical solution.”

The petition ( available on http://epetitions.scottish.parliament.uk/list_petitions.asp ) will run until October 28.

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